Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (arts 226)


· The policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed to allow applications relating to the heritage of UK Overseas Territories.

· The small islands of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are home to some of the UK’s most precious natural heritage: over 500 unique species found nowhere else on earth. This heritage is under severe pressure: over 87% of the UK’s threatened species are located in the UKOTs.

· There are two vulnerable World Heritage Sites in the UKOTs: Gough & Inaccessible Islands (Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic), and Henderson Island (Pitcairn, South Pacific). The Outstanding Universal Values for which these Sites have been listed are under threat from introduced species. UNESCO has urged the UK Government to rapidly secure the funding for the eradication of invasive species from these Sites.

· The current funding for the natural heritage of the UKOTs is grossly inadequate. The Heritage Lottery Fund is one of the major sources of funding for projects in UK World Heritage Sites, yet projects in the World Heritage Sites in the UKOTs are deemed ineligible due to their location. The RSPB is therefore calling for a change to the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding to support the overlooked natural heritage of the Overseas Territories.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to this consultation. We have focussed on the question of whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed, and our written evidence is set out below.

1. The RSPB is the UK partner of BirdLife International, a network of over 100 grass-roots conservation organisations around the world. As part of our commitment to the conservation of our planet’s natural heritage, we have for over 10 years provided financial, technical and advisory support to emerging NGO partners and local governments in the UK Overseas Territories.

2. RSPB works on the Overseas Territories because of their outstanding importance for natural heritage, which includes more threatened breeding bird species than on the entire European continent. These remote islands are home to well over 500 species found nowhere else on earth, including over a third of the world's breeding pairs of albatross. Their unique habitats are equally significant, internationally recognised for containing the world's largest and most pristine coral atoll (the Great Chagos Bank) and, arguably, the most important seabird island on the planet (Gough Island). This remarkable richness places a very high level of responsibility on the UK to protect the natural heritage of these territories.

3. Whilst rich in natural heritage and unique species, the human populations of the Overseas Territories are small. For example, Pitcairn supports more globally threatened species than the total human population of the island. The Territories are particularly reliant on their natural heritage for their livelihoods and quality of life. The economies of many of the islands depend heavily on the revenue raised from fisheries and tourism, and mangroves, forests and coral reefs provide protection from severe weather events, which under current climate change projections are likely to increase in the future.

4. This natural heritage is under severe pressure. 96 UKOT species are now classified as critically endangered (compared to just 14 critically endangered species in the UK). Moreover, the last UKOT extinction occurred as recently as 2003 (the St Helena Olive). As of 2009, over 87% of the UK’s threatened species were located in the Overseas Territories.

5. The Territories’ capacity to conserve their natural heritage is strongly constrained by limited human and financial resources. Environment departments and local conservation organizations, if they exist, only have small numbers of staff that are stretched very thinly. The scale of the conservation department is often matched to the size of human and financial resources available on the Territory, not to the scale of the biodiversity, which is of great global significance. In some Territories, for example Tristan da Cunha or Pitcairn, the population is so small that no significant capacity or finance is available to deal with pressing natural heritage issues. On yet other Territories, for example South Georgia or BIOT, there is no local population. Many local conservation organisations rely to a significant extent on funding from Territory governments so are not able to respond objectively when consulted on development proposals because they may be threatened with budget cuts if they raise objections. Staff may not have the skills and/or sufficient time to engage effectively in planning processes.

6. In some Territories, tourist and/or environmental taxes are charged but all of the revenue raised returns to Central Government. Only a small proportion of the central budget goes back into an environmental fund and/or projects. Several Territories meanwhile are almost entirely dependent on direct grants from the Department for International Development. Funding for heritage conservation is minimal.

7. Overall, the current lack of capacity and finance in many Territories coupled by the lack of interest or support from the UK Government in these issues means that the deterioration of natural heritage continues largely unabated. It is essential that if this is to be avoided, sufficient resources need to be provided to Territories so that they can implement conservation actions proportionate to the scale of the challenges they face.

8. At present, the National Lottery is a crucial source of funds for many natural heritage projects in the UK. According to the website of the Heritage Lottery Fund, ‘HLF has invested more than £860 million in projects that safeguard the UK’s precious countryside, wildlife and parks, helping to protect some of our most threatened wildlife.’ Projects working to conserve the natural heritage of the UKOTs (where 87% of the UK’s threatened species are to be found) are ineligible for this funding due to their location. Since the UKOTs are also unable to access many international sources of finance due to their status as UK territory, they are left in the position where very little funding is available.

9. Some of the most urgent conservation actions in the UKOTs are required on two threatened World Heritage Sites- Gough and Inaccessible Islands (Tristan da Cunha), and Henderson Island (Pitcairn). The UK Government has been urged by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to rapidly secure adequate funding to implement invasive species eradication schemes on these two Sites. The World Heritage Committee in August 2010 described an invasive rat eradication scheme for Henderson Island World Heritage Site as being of ‘critical importance to maintaining the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property’ (Decision 34COM 7B.27). In 2009, the Committee requested the UK Government to eradicate invasive mice from Gough Island World Heritage Site ‘within five years’, i.e. by 2014 (Decision 33COM 7B.32).

10. DCMS is the lead Government department on World Heritage, yet neither the department nor it’s arms-length funding bodies have made any funds available for these critical restoration projects. The Henderson Island Restoration Project will cost an estimated £1.7 million, the Gough Island Restoration Project in the order of £3 million. Given the tiny human populations and limited financial resources of these Territories, it is unrealistic to expect them to be able to fund such conservation action. The UK Government is legally responsible for these UK World Heritage Sites and has a duty to contribute towards the funding of this urgent restoration work. The RSPB has already raised more than £1 million towards the cost of the Henderson Island Restoration Project, but needs further UK Government financial support if it is to proceed with the rat eradication operation next year.

11. The RSPB is therefore calling for the National Lottery funding policy guidelines to be reviewed and for applications relating to heritage in the UK Overseas Territories to be allowed. This change could enable vital conservation actions in the most far flung portions of UK territory, which would contribute to conserving some of Britain’s most threatened and most overlooked natural heritage.